The sad news of the death of Alex Chilton last week sent me scurrying back to my Big Star records and the majesty of ‘Thirteen’, ‘I’m In Love With A Girl’ and ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ offered a welcome respite at the end of a tiring week. While the songs, and their parent albums, had more than a couple of plays, in amongst them was an album that unashamedly acknowledges its influences, confident in the knowledge that it’s good enough to stand tall in the exultant company of both Big Star and The Beatles. That album, as you may have guessed by this point, was ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ by Teenage Fanclub, a record which I’m increasingly certain belongs in my all time top ten, if not top five.
The luscious vocals, soaring guitars and heart-melting melodies of Big Star are here in abundance, but that’s not to say that this is simply an homage. ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ is an out and out pop masterpiece. There isn’t a song you’d want to lose, a track to wish away in anticipation of the next or a chorus devoid of a hook. This is pretty much the result of an attempt to calculate how to make utterly beguiling, suitably concise and indefatigably effervescent songs to soothe the soul. It never sounds old, hackneyed or clichéd and I can say, quite unashamedly, that every time I play this record it gives me an undeniable lift.
‘Start Again’ and ‘Ain’t That Enough’ form a bright, shiny, soaring opening salvo, doing an admirable job of setting out the album’s stall. If you don’t like jangle and exemplary harmonies then this is not the record for you.Having said that, if ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ doesn’t make you truly glad you have ears then I’m not sure I ever really want to know you. I’m not sure you can really feel. You poor person, you. ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You’, replete with early seconds of farm noise, slightly confused me as a single choice around the time when the album first appeared, seeming too laid back for an assault on the chart, but, in the context of the record, it’s a simple, affecting love song which would be the highlight of so many other records, but not this one. Not that that’s an easy title to give out.
‘Planets’, with its gleaming guitar part is essentially a live recording of wistful summer evening sunshine while ‘Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From’ is so utterly bare and heartfelt it may have a legitimate claim to being the best Teenage Fanclub song of all time, let alone best on the album. Essentially little more than a gentle strum with some lolloping drums and an occasional burst of restrained, lilting piano, ‘Your Love…’ seems to simple to be special, but don’t be fooled. Listen again and noticed the radiant if relatively muted organ notes serving as the song’s undercurrent, notice the slowly increasingly volume and presence of those trademark soaring guitar riffs and be rendered agog by what is almost an anti-crescendo when the track beautifully manoeuvres itself to a close.
And that’s all without mentioning the sublime Beatles-esque plonking piano of ‘Mount Everest’, the chiming splendour of ‘Take The Long Way Home’ and the unassumingly magical album closer, ‘Speed Of Light’. ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ is a truly special record from a truly special band. I make no apologies for having a second ‘A Week With…’ feature about them for two very good reasons. Firstly, it’s my blog so nur. Eloquently argued, no? Secondly, I genuinely don’t believe that enough people know about this spinetinglingly magnificent collection of music and, with their new album due to emerge at the end of May, it’ll do nobody any harm to get acquainted. I once saw copies of this record, boxed with their second best album, ‘Grand Prix’, selling at £3 in Fopp and considered buying the entire stock so as to give them to the uninitiated. Sadly, I didn’t, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to get yourself a copy. Feel free to come and hurl abuse my way should you, for whatever almost incomprehensible reason, find it not to your liking.